As a child of the 80s, I've never really needed to grow up; the entertainment industry apparently decided to prey on my nostalgia long ago. Which explains why, at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, I still find myself immersed in the saga of the Transformers. And why the most recent book I read, relevant to this particular blog of course, was Alex Irvine's Transformers: Exodus.
Read, and quite enjoyed.
Irvine was given an interesting task with this book, which was to basically fold together as many different Transformers backstories as humanly possible. Now, this is no mean feat, because even when they were first introduced back in the 80s the Transformers had two different, nearly incompatible backstories given, and that number has only reason as the series has been reinvented time after time. At this point, trying to come up with a coherent system that can incorporate the 80s cartoon and comic book, which diverged from each other quite quickly, along with Beast Wars/Beast Machines, Transformers: Prime, the War for Cybertron video game and Michael Bay's movies, is roughly equivalent to asking someone to write the definitive version of, say, Power Girl. And if you don't know why that would be problematic, take a quick read-through.
But I digress. Irvine was given a rather difficult task, and he manages to pull it through quite nicely. He incorporates historical events and locations not just from the original or most recent series, but from a variety of sources all along the life span of the franchise. And in an interesting twist, Irvine himself has stated that the descriptions of the Transformers themselves are sparse to non-existent on purpose, to allow readers to slot in whichever version, or versions, they think most appropriate. It's a very nice touch, and one that raises the enjoyment level of the book noticeably, especially given how polarizing certain depictions of some of these characters have been. That degree of consideration for the fandom is largely seen throughout the rest of the book as well, with Irvine managing to do interesting things with a rather well-worn narrative, both in terms of the Transformers in particular and fiction in general. Two brothers, or 'brothers' at least, torn apart by civil war, rising to lead opposing forces until there's nothing but hatred between them, isn't exactly a new story, but Irvine puts a solid spin on it, and keeps the action moving along at a good enough clip that it never gets bogged down by the weight of its own tropes. Which is good, because there are a lot of them.
As is often the case with licensed media, it's tough to say whether this book would appeal much to a non-fan. There's not a great deal of context provided beyond the immediate, and the lack of descriptions, for instance, would rather hinder someone who doesn't already have favourite versions of the characters to slot into their mental slideshow. As well, some of the characters' actions wouldn't resonant nearly as much with those who don't already have a vested interest in them, particularly the now-ubiquitous 'one shall stand, one shall fall' moment, which leans heavily on the gravitas of earlier engagements and is rather slight on its own.
But at the end of the day this is licensed media, and the chances are that if you're picking up a book that says Transformers on it, you know what you're getting into. So long as that's the case, Exodus is an entirely enjoyable read, a Transformers tale that can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the best the franchise has offered in the past. Whether that will be good enough for you, in the end, depends entirely on how much that franchise's past means to you.